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Manchester firm Cobbetts is set to merge with Read Hind Stewart in Leeds.
The official line is that discussions are preliminary, but Cobbetts managing partner Michael Shaw told The Lawyer that they have progressed much further than first-stage talks. "Within Cobbetts we've had formal meetings and are operating on a consensus," he said. "From both firms' perspectives, we're the only firm meeting our required profile in the area. It's only if our initial perceptions about each other are wrong that we'll call it off." Shaw's main aim behind the merger is to break into the competitive Leeds market. He hinted that the firms' cross expertise in commercial property was why they felt they should combine. "We know the climate in Leeds. It would be a mistake to go into Leeds on our own," he said. According to a Cobbetts spokesman, the talks are the start of a purely Leeds-based initiative, and Cobbetts is not planning to expand into other cities in the North of England in the immediate future. Cobbetts, which has 54 partners, is best known for its core property practice, although Shaw said he was trying to reduce the firm's reliance on this single area. Read Hind, with 15 partners and offices in Leeds and Hull, does general commercial work with a European focus. The merger will create a 69-partner, cross-Pennine firm; and according to Shaw, it will not create any redundancies among lawyers and secretaries in either firm. "From the point of our lawyers, we only see an upside. Secretaries won't be affected," he said. However, he refused to comment on the fate of both firms' other fee-earners and support staff. Cobbetts has experienced failed merger talks with Manchester giant Halliwell Landau and national firm Pinsent Curtis Biddle. Shaw thinks that Cobbetts will have more success merging with a smaller firm. Shaw said: "As a firm, you have experiences and evolve as a firm. For years we've been clear on what we're doing. We want control over our own destiny and don't want to be taken over. "Although Read Hind Stewart is a smaller firm, the size of it belies its abilities."